Still feeling the heat…John Weaver remains active firefighter 45 years into his volunteer calling

By on February 4, 2015

What motivates an individual to become a volunteer fireman, remain active and continue volunteering — for decades?

For John Weaver, recently feted for 45 years of service with the Denver Volunteer Fire Company, the motivation is clear.

“My neighbors and friends were firemen,” he said. “Nolan Lied and Sheldon Bergman (a former Lancaster City chief) were firefighters. Brother-in laws, Clarence and Craig Long, became professional firemen in Lancaster and Allentown respectively. Craig, I think, was chief.

“I joined as a Junior Fireman when I was 14 years old. After two years, Denver’s program folded and I ran with Reinholds. At 18, in 1969, I joined the Denver Volunteer Fire Company as a member.”

What’s kept Weaver on call for four and a half decades?

Photo by Alice Hummer Denver Fire Chief Shawn Hilton, left, congratulates John Weaver on 45 years as an active firefighter with Denver Fire Company. Weaver continues to respond to calls and serves as the company vice-president.

Photo by Alice Hummer
Denver Fire Chief Shawn Hilton, left, congratulates John Weaver on 45 years as an active firefighter with Denver Fire Company. Weaver continues to respond to calls and serves as the company vice president.

“That’s easy,” he said. “Having our business (Weaver Industries) here in town, my dad always said it was important to give back to the community because the community supported the business.”

Even today, Weaver Industries permits active firefighters to leave the job for a fire call, and their time is paid, a practice started by Weaver’s father, company founder.

“I think we’re the only company left in town that has active firefighters,” Weaver said. “The other companies, like C.G. Sweigart, Zerbe, and Showalter/Wenrich, are no longer around. They each had between one and three firemen who would respond. At one time our company had eight responders; now we’re down to three.”

What highlights does Weaver recall?

“On my very first call, I saw a fellow burn to death on a turnpike accident,” said Weaver.

“A state trooper asked me, ‘Is this your first death?’

‘Yes,’ I nodded.

‘Let me tell you something, the trooper said, and I’ve remembered his advice to this day.

‘People live and die every day. You are called to help, the trooper said emphatically’.”

Weaver said he quickly realized that responding is far more than the excitement of the lights and sirens.

“Firemen put their lives on the line every time they go out,” he said.

“I recall a house fire where Sheldon Bergman and I carried two fellows out of the burning house, and both made it. Those experiences make you feel good you could make a difference.”

Over the years Weaver became an instructor, teaching fire suppression and rescue.

“I met great people all over the county, and really from all over the state,” said Weaver.

Weaver acknowledged the strong bond of brotherhood among all volunteer firefighters and the positive social interactions that have happened during his years.

When asked for the “down side” of volunteer fire fighting, he couldn’t cite any.

“It’s all good,” said Weaver. “I can’t see a negative.”

Pausing, Weaver added,

“Fires aren’t always at the most convenient times,” he added. My family’s been left sitting a lot of times at sporting events, holidays, and special events.”

He recalls one weekend afternoon when the relatives were gathered and he heard the Reinholds siren.

“I told my wife I’d just walk down to the station and find out where the fire was.

“At the station a driver said to me: ‘Get on the truck, I need an officer. I think it’s a brush fire.’

“‘This shouldn’t be too long,’ I thought. “The driver assured me there was gear on board for me to wear.”

Weaver soon learned from county control that the blaze was actually a barn fire.

“Denver was called, I switched back to my home company and didn’t get home until the next morning,” he said.

What does Weaver wish for volunteer fire companies?

“My wish would be for more community support and participation,” said Weaver. “I recall collecting coin cards in the early 1970s. Easily, almost every household gave a full coin card, which then was $10, and most gave an additional donation.”

Weaver said the state is asking more and more from volunteer firemen in training.

“It takes a lot of time and the commitment is great.,” he said. “I always wanted to do this.”

In addition to continuing to serve as an active fire fighter and driver for all vehicles, Weaver is the fire company vice president, where his business skills are valuable in the administration of the company.

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